Students at a private school. (Prasad Gori/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • In the post-liberalised global era, where the demand in the labour market has changed, budget private schools are doing a great job in developing human resources for the demographic dividend that we will face in the near future.

India faces the challenge of millions of out-of-schoolchildren, high dropout rates after elementary education, low female enrollment, and most importantly, low quality of education, among others. Despite an impressive adult literacy rate of 71.2 per cent, the public education system in India is struggling, with half of the primary school students unable to read a basic text and two-thirds unable to do basic math. In such a state, private schools have taken the front seat in delivering better quality education and striving towards fulfilling the goal of universal elementary education.

Private schools are unaided government schools, believed to offer better value for money and better environment of learning. Indian parents prefer private schools over public schools for their children evident by the fact that private schools have 40 per cent enrollment rate and constitute for 25 per cent of the 1.5 million kindergarten to Class XII schools, with more than 250 million students enrolled. This istrue for rural areas as well, which saw student enrollment in private schools rise from 18.7 per cent in 2006 to 25.6 per cent in 2011, according to an EY-FICCI report. The biggest bottleneck in growing popularity of private schools is the issue of affordability. The growth of budget-private schools has tried to tackle this question since the post-liberalisation era in India.

Budget private schools (BPS) are privately-run schools that charge very low fees between Rs 50-300 per month, operating among the poorer sections of the society and have become relevant to the education discourse of India. According to Prachi Srivastava, BPS or what she refers to as low-fee private schooling refer to independent schools charging a maximum monthly tuition fee not exceeding the rate a daily wage labourer earned in a day. These schools show the entrepreneurial spirit in the field of education and how private institutions can also be inclusive of the poor. These schools are providing employment to thousands and education to millions.

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Why The Growth Of Budget Private Schools?

There are mainly two reasons for the growing popularity of budget private schools. The primary reason is that they are alternatives to the“dysfunctional state-run schools”. State-run schools have shown low learning achievements and teacher absenteeism. A total of 47 per cent of children who were in school and studying in Class V could not read the story text at Class II level of difficulty. In arithmetic, nearly 55 per cent of Class V and nearly 25 per cent of Class VII students could not solve a simple division problem (three digits divided by one digit). Based on data gathered from unannounced visits to government schools, 25 per cent of teachers were absent from school on any given working day and only about half of them teach. Another problem with public schools is the high pupil-teacher ratio, which is around 50:1 and it leads to neglection of children, ultimately encouraging them to drop out of these schools. Muralidharan and Kremer suggested that private schools enter where public schools are failing or as evidence that the establishment of private schools reduces political pressure for teacher attendance in public schools.

The other reason for the increase in demand for BPS is the “rising income of families”. There is a direct correlation between the rise of income and increasing demand for BPS, partly because of affordability and partly because of the status symbol in society attached to private schools. The change in the labour market and a demand for educational degrees have also contributed towards an increase in enrollment of children which has mainly been absorbed by these BPS.

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How Are BPS Improving Education?

There have been four major benefits of BPS that had helped to take giant leaps in literacy in rural areas. First, ‘better learning achievements’ in comparison to government schools. A lower pupil-teacher ratio, less multi-grade teaching and higher attendance rates have allowed BPS to achieve better learning outcomes. The mean test scores for mathematics were 22 per cent and 23 per cent more for recognised and unrecognised private schools respectively, compared to government schools. The advantage was even more pronounced in English tests as the BPS start teaching English earlier (Class I) than government schools (Class III) which gives an additive advantage to them. Better teaching quality in private school shave resulted in better results and helped to prepare an English-speaking global work-force. Pupil attendance in private schools is 11.3 per cent (percentage points) higher in the all-India sample, and 13.4 per cent higher with village fixed effects which accounts for a relative role in their better performance. This shows us that private schools are less complacent than their public counterparts in giving attention to the students and thus instill parent’s faith in these schools.

Second, BPS provide a better ‘value for money’. Per pupil expenditure (PPE) in MP government school system is Rs 9,284 per annum and in private schools Rs 3,700 per annum. Thus, government schools’ PPE is 2.5 times that private schools’ PPE. Cost per unit in government schools is Rs 338 and Rs 63 in private schools, implying that private schools are 5.3 times as cost-effective as public schools. Rural areas have an elastic demand for schooling so the cost-effective private schools are attracting more parents and making education more sustainable by keeping the opportunity cost lower. Third, a roughly ‘equal enrollment of boys and girls’. The influence of family and peers and widespread socio-economic changes have created a shift in the thinking of parents in rural areas about the importance for all their children, including girls. In the paper ‘Private Schooling and Mental Models about Girls’ Schooling in India’ Srivastava writes that the parents considered the low-fee private sector to be a better-quality option than the state sector, offering better employment opportunities for their daughters. The spatial growth of BPS in closer proximity to rural people has helped to fight parents’ security concerns for sending their daughter to far off schools.

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Fourth, BPS have mostly ‘employed teachers from the local community’. Poor transport facilities work as a deterrence for conducting regular classes as government teachers are likely to travel from towns to villages to teach. BPS eliminate this problem by hiring local teachers. BPS teachers are 2 per cent to 8 per cent less likely to be absent and 6 per cent to 9 per cent more likely to be engaged in teaching compared to government schools. Secondly, these teachers are better acquainted with the students and their family background, holding more influence over their decisions. This helps them to convince the parents to send their children regularly to school and avoid them from dropping them out as well.

Major Problems And The Way Forward

BPS face two major problems of ‘inequity’ and the ‘inconsistency in education’. Extremely backward social groups like tribal people and Dalits can’t still afford BPS furthering the divide between privileged and non-privileged classes. Although the argument is true, there are two levels of responses to its relevance. Firstly, both private and government schools can co-exist, where government schools specifically focus on these extremely less-privileged children, while the private schools deal with all those who can afford it. Secondly, the private school should produce education and provide itto all the people who can pay for it, and the government should finance the education of those people, who can’t afford to pay through scholarships or a better ‘voucher system’ turning them into a financier of education as argued by Shah and Miranda. A bleak expectation of increased expenditure on education makes voucher-system more efficient as BPS have one-third to half PPE than government schools.

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The second problem of inconsistency of education is because these BPS lack a universal curriculum and set of standards. This problem has more to owe to the policies of government mainly under Right of Education Act because of which a lot of budget private schools weren’t recognised. The rigid policies are hard to comply for a BPS and they need to be relaxed so that the BPS can come under official sector, which in turn will allow the government to create a set of minimal standards for them. Also, organisations like Standard of Excellence in Education and Development (SEED) which have helped to provide standardised curriculum and teacher training need to encouraged and supported.

Budget private schools have certainly reshaped if not revolutionised education in rural India. In the post-liberalised global era, where the demand in the labour market has changed, budget private schools are doing a great job in developing human resources for the demographic dividend that we will face in the near future. Moving away from traditional education in math and science, BPS have strived towards educating children in English and social sciences making them more suitable for the global market and holistically developing them. BPSs still have a long way to go, and liberalised policies with a voucher system can help India achieve the goal of universal elementary education.

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